Hanover to Vote on Tightening of In-Town House-Size Rules
Voting for Hanover officers and zoning amendments will take place from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Tuesday at Hanover High School’s gym. The remainder of the articles, including the budget, will be discussed and voted on at 7 p.m. that evening at the gym.
Hanover — Concern that outsize new homes threaten the character of downtown neighborhoods has led to a proposed zoning amendment that would further limit the size of a newly built home relative to its lot.
The amendment, which will go before voters at next week’s Town Meeting, was spurred by so-called “teardowns,” existing homes that are purchased and demolished to make way for new construction. Proponents of the amendment say it would ensure that newly built homes are of a similar scale to others in the neighborhood.
“We’re trying to prevent back-to-back houses with very little green space, and in keeping with what makes Hanover Hanover, in that we have neighborhoods,” said Bill Boyle, who lives on Buell Street. “You don’t want people to clear cut the whole place and say, ‘I can build that.’ ”
The amendment was developed by residents in the leafy neighborhood nestled between Route 10 and the Hanover High athletics fields, where a property owner on Ledyard Lane plans to build a nearly 10,000-square-foot home on a 15,000-square foot parcel. The amendment would not affect the permit already in hand for the Ledyard Lane property owned by Jolin Salazar-Kish.
Last fall, a group of residents who were part of the ad hoc Ledyard Lane Neighborhood Association appealed Salazar-Kish’s zoning permit.
While the Zoning Board of Adjustment ordered her to make a few small changes , the proposed house ultimately was found to comply with the town’s zoning ordinance and she was allowed to keep her permit. Construction has not yet started.
Bryant Denk, who lives on nearby Hovey Lane, said the amendment would keep future proposals more in line with surrounding homes.
Hanover’s Master Plan emphasizes neighborhood preservation, and Boyle said that he had noticed that a number of houses throughout town had been torn down over the years and replaced with much larger homes that altered the characteristics of the neighborhoods.
“It was just an attempt to preserve what we had,” Boyle said.
Currently, all lots in the single-residence zone can have a maximum building footprint of 35 percent and a maximum lot coverage of 65 percent. Building lots in the general residence district that are 20,000 feet or less can have building footprints no larger than 35 percent and overall lot coverage of not more than 65 percent, and lots that are greater than 20,000 square feet restrict building footprints to 55 percent and overall lot coverage to 80 percent.
The amendment would reduce the maximum building footprint to 25 percent of the lot and the maximum lot coverage, which means all other accessory structures as well, to 50 percent in both single residence and general residence zones.
The amendment includes an exception for lots in the general residence district that are greater than 30,000 square feet or lots fronting West Wheelock Street and South Park Street.
For those lots, the maximum building footprint would be reduced to 35 percent and the total lot coverage could not be more than 65 percent.
Although her property already has the necessary permits, Salazar-Kish said even if she had to comply with the proposed amendment, her building footprint is 29 percent of her lot and the overall lot coverage is 50.6 percent — just a little over the 25 percent maximum building footprint and 50 percent maximum lot coverage that would be required if the new amendment passes.
As for the complaint of large homes being built on small lots, Salazar-Kish, who owns several properties in the Upper Valley, said that is typical of redevelopment in established communities.
“That’s the definition of gentrification, and to think that is not going to happen in Hanover isn’t realistic. I’m not the first person to do it, and I’m definitely not the last person to do it,” Kish said. “There are many people looking for places in Hanover to tear them down and build. To think that the only place you can have a big house is in a rural setting is a little restrictive.”
She added that the town needs to be careful not to make zoning so restrictive that it makes it difficult to improve or develop properties, because that could drive down property values.
Planning Board member Kate Connolly argued that the amendment is not restrictive, given its a refinement of existing requirements, and would help protect green space.
Before the amendment was placed on the Town Meeting warrant, 330 existing homes were surveyed and 90 percent of them conformed with the new amendment, Connolly said. It became apparent to the board that the building and lot coverage allowances on the books are too “generous.”
“It’s a simple reflection of what many of the older neighborhoods look like, and it’s a simple desire to hold on to a little bit of green space in the more congested parts of town,” Connolly said.
The minimum lot size in Hanover is 10,000 square feet, meaning under the amendment, the largest building footprint on the smallest allowable lot could be 2,500 square feet.
Salazar-Kish said she’s concerned about the impact the amendment would have on the West Wheelock corridor, which runs from the Connecticut River to the Dartmouth College green , because the road is supposed to be developed into a “gateway of Hanover.”
Salazar-Kish said she attended a forum last fall in which participants determined the best way to develop West Wheelock was through decreased setbacks, increased building heights, increased lot coverage, increased building coverage and decreased parking requirements.
The proposed amendment, she said, does the opposite by decreasing the allowable building and lot footprints on West Wheelock Street.
“This is a broad, sweeping, one-size-fits-all amendment at the time that we’re trying to create zoning,” Salazar-Kish said.
There are three other zoning amendments on the warrant, one of which increases the side and rear property-line setbacks on accessory buildings from 7 feet to 10 feet.
Small Budget Increase
Residents will also be voting on a $22.1 million operating budget, which is a 2.3 percent increase from the previous year.
There is also a one-year extension in the contracts for the police union, fire union and public works union. Usually the unions work on a three-year contract, but Hanover Town Manager Julia Griffin said the town decided to stick with a one-year contract because the town was in the process of searching for a new police and fire chief this year, and the town wanted them to be a part of the bargaining process.
If all spending is approved, the tax rate would increase 11 cents, or 2.5 percent, to $4.55 per $1,000 of assessed value.
The owner of a $400,000 home would see a tax bill increase by $44 annually for a total of $1,820. Hanover residents also pay a fire district tax.
Griffin called the budget a “hold-the-line budget” with no dramatic new initiatives. There is a 1 percent cost of living increase for municipal workers in the budget.
The increase in the tax rate is partially due to an additional $110,000 in appropriations to capital reserves to help plan for the next five years.
The Selectboard also increased the paving budget by $11,50 0.
“Paving budgets are tempting budgets to cut because they are usually big numbers,” Griffin said. “So when a community is feeling strapped, they tend to go after some of those larger accounts because they’re easy targets. But the problem is that is just kicking the can down the road.”
While spending is up 3.3 percent, the amount being spent out of capital reserves is down from $1.8 million last year to $911,235 this year. The town plans to spend $106,000 for the replacement of a portion of the Howe Library roof and two-sidewalk tractors, each costing $140,000, as well as maintenance to the parking garage.
This is also the second year in a row in which the Hanover Finance Committee — an advisory committee that issues nonbinding votes — is not supporting the budget.
Chairwoman Heidi Postupack said the committee has been asking the Selectboard for a number of years to express the budget percentage change by the tax levy, which is the total amount of money raised by taxes, instead of through the tax rate change. Postupack said the committee voted, 3-2, against the budget because the town did not take its recommendation of expressing the change by the tax levy, but also because the tax levy went up more than the Consumer Price Index.
The budget represents a tax levy increase of 3.2 percent while the inflation rate increase is only 1.9 percent. (The town does provide information about its tax levy in the town report.)
The Finance Committee’s majority opinion read, “Committee members believe that continued increases in spending that outstrip inflationary increases are unsustainable and that the tax burden on the population is becoming too large. In recommending rejection of the FY15 budget, the Finance Committee urges taxpayers to send the message to the Board of Selectmen to make hard choices and hold the line on expense growth and capital expenditure decisions to help ease the tax burden on the population.”
While the tax rate shows people how much their bill to the town will increase each year, it doesn’t show how much additional funds the town is taking in as a whole, Postupack said.
“It’s just about sharing more information with tax payers so they are educated about what is going on and just being careful that we don’t increase taxes to the point where people have to leave,” Postupack said.
There are no contested races this year.
Sarah Brubeck can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 603-727-3223.
Hanover property owner Jolin Salazar-Kish described redevelopment in some established neighborhoods as "gentrification." An earlier version of this story misquoted her on that point.